We all know how the MLB offseason affects the lives of fans and players, but what is it like from an agent’s perspective?
Baseball fans have speculated plenty about what this free agent market in this MLB offseason means for the future of the sport, but what fans know pales in comparison to that of people who actually work in the industry, such as agent Joshua Kusnick.
While the relationship between Major League Baseball and Major League Baseball Players’ Association has been deteriorating for years upon end now, the state of the bond between the two parties was particularly in shambles at the end of last MLB offseason. Last winter was the second consecutive MLB offseason in which a massive number of free agents, including marquee free agents like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, weren’t able to come to terms with teams until particularly late in the offseason, even into Spring Training. Fingers can be pointed at a number of reasons for why it took so long for teams to finally sign these players, including plenty of teams “tanking”, teams not wanting to sacrifice a first round draft pick, and teams wanting to stay under the luxury tax, among others.
While some fans were encouraged by superstars like Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg, among other players, signing lucrative contracts early in the offseason this year, there is still skepticism that enough is being done to repair the state of the MLB/MLBPA relationship and prevent a labor stoppage when the current collective bargaining agreement ends at the end of the 2021 season.
I spoke with MLBPA certified agent Joshua Kusnick to get his take on how this offseason’s free agent market has affected his personal view on the chances of a labor stoppage in the coming years, and to discuss other significant advances in the baseball world this MLB offseason.
Max Mannis: To start, can you give a brief introduction as to who you are and what you do?
Joshua Kusnick: I’ve been an MLBPA certified agent since 2006 and an agent since 2002. I was the youngest agent ever for a while, I’ve represented a bunch of big leaguers and All-Stars over the years, Michael Brantley, Lorenzo Cain, Kenley Jansen, Jeremy Jeffress, Seth Lugo, and currently now I just work with Carlos Asuaje and Reggie McClain and some minor league guys. I’m kind of slowing things down on the baseball side to make a transition full time to eSports this year. Long term I’m concerned about the economic future of baseball and how it affects players and whatnot.
Mannis: What was your stance on the MLB/MLBPA relationship and the possibility of a strike coming out of last MLB offseason?
Kusnick: I feel the same, actually, from last season to this season, I don’t know why people feel like things are different. The owners created a system that we’re all working within the confines of, so you even see things that are really uncommon on the agent side, like Scott Boras rushing to get contracts done earlier than he usually does. That should be a red flag to everybody. I don’t think the majority of free agency has changed for the lower-middle class of free agents. The best players are always going to get their money, but everybody else is still kind of screwed compared to how things were. If owners could create a system where everybody got one-year deals and everyone was a free agent at the end of the year and the market was flooded and there were no long term contracts, that’s what Marvin Miller worked so hard to prevent, so I don’t think we’re in good shape.
Mannis: What is your relationship like with Scott Boras? Do you see him as a competitor or as an idol?
Kusnick: Neither. I know Scott and I’ve competed with him, but there’s no way I view Scott as a competitor- Scott is Scott, he’s not worried about me, he shouldn’t be. I don’t really worry about Scott, I don’t work for those guys, I don’t have those kind of names of players and if I’m fortunate enough that any of my clients turn into that kind of player, then I have the relationship built with them and I did a good enough job to keep them. So in that sense, I don’t really worry about any agent, but I am pretty confrontational when agents bother me- I’m not quiet. I respect what he’s done in baseball a ton, the guy changed the game and should be in the Hall of Fame one day. I know horror stories about him with individual players, but as a whole, I think Scott Boras has done a great service for players in the industry. Though I am disappointed with one thing- if he put his efforts and his immense power to use towards the minor league wage system, I think he could establish real change for those guys better than anyone else could. But he has not chosen to do that, and that’s his business, and he doesn’t owe anyone, but if I was in that position I know I would. But I’m not, so here we are.
Mannis: Let’s say you’re commissioner for a week. What would you change?
Kusnick: Well if I’m still working for the owners, I don’t change anything, because it’s great for the owners. But as far as what I as an agent would like to see done, I would change the arbitration system and get guys paid younger- so like the great bargain we had for years was that guys would get screwed when they were younger and then they’d get paid when they were older. Well now owners don’t want to pay when you’re older or when you’re younger, and that’s the problem, so I would overhaul the arbitration system first and foremost. Also I’d get rid of the stupid international cap, I would get rid of the luxury tax, and I would keep no salary cap. I would really try to make it a free market as best as possible, but that doesn’t exist in any sport, so it is what it is.
Mannis: The current collective bargaining agreement ends after 2021. As of this moment, do you think we’re on for a strike?
Kusnick: I think there’s a good possibility for a labor stoppage, but I don’t know if it’s going to be a lockout or a strike, I have no idea. I do think it’s more likely than not that we have a labor stoppage, I’m not confident that ownership is going to acquiesce to give the players anything we want. I have no faith in that- and they have no reason to do it two years in advance, what incentive do they have to do anything right this second other than labor peace, which Manfred already said he isn’t giving the players anything for? So I don’t see anything that’s changed, which I said on Jomboy’s podcast. What’s changed? Why are things different? Nothing has changed, so why do I think anything is different?
Mannis: What do you think about the job Commissioner Manfred has done so far in regard to the MLB/MLBPA relationship?
Kusnick: Screw him, man. He sucks. I hate that guy.
Mannis: We’ve seen a trend in other sports in recent years of players skipping college or only going to college for one year before making the jump to the pros. Do you think that will become more popular in baseball, and do you think that’s for the betterment of the players and the game?
Kusnick: If there was a one and done rule in baseball, of course that would be better. That’s why I always tell kids to go to junior college, because if you go to JuCo, it is one and done. One and done is always better. You can always go back, and get paid quicker and be good, always do that. The younger you sign, the quicker you get your money, the quicker you get paid. It is always advantageous to the player to get in quickly if he can. Now that’s at all costs, though- if he gets like a $10,000 signing bonus out of high school and has an opportunity to become a first rounder in college, go to school. But if you have the opportunity to be a first rounder out of high school, there’s no reason to go to college, unless you want to.
Mannis: Given the agents’, players’ and owners’ stances, what reasonably do you think we can see in the next year and a half that would make you think we won’t have a labor stoppage after 2021?
Kusnick: If nothing changes, if we just keep doing what we’re doing right now, what’s gonna change? They have to do something. It can’t just be talk and then nothing changes, because then it’s the same as a year ago and two years ago, when (Mets GM) Brodie (Van Wagenen) posted that letter about the “alpha male”, saying we’re not gonna take it, blah blah blah- and now he’s a GM hiring all of his old clients. The owners have to give the players something that they want, they need to start paying them fairly again in respect to what the revenues are, and stop trying to circumvent the system by using the luxury tax as a de facto salary cap. If they stop doing that stuff, ok, maybe I’ll change my mind. But nothing’s changed.
Mannis: What is your take on some other changes baseball has implemented this offseason, such as MLB removing marijuana as a banned substance in the minor leagues and MLB extending its long term deal with Sony, with MLB The Show no longer being exclusive to PlayStation?
Kusnick: The marijuana news is great. Everyone should be able to do that if they want to, if they don’t want to, they shouldn’t do it, and if they want to, who the hell cares? I still don’t see how people view marijuana worse than alcohol. I’m a marijuana user, I have my card and it saved my life with all my surgeries, and I worked for Jeremy Jeffress for all those years. I thought the way they treated him was horrible, I still do, and I think a lot of it was racially motivated, those are my feelings from being around it for 14 years. I think that policy was very awful, and I’m glad they rectified it, and I hope it gets implemented correctly and no one gets in trouble for it. On the other side, the MLB The Show deal certainly opens up so many potential revenue streams for the players if the owners don’t decide to screw everybody, or if the Players Association is savvy enough to take advantage of it, which I’m sure they are. You look at other leagues like the NBA, they have the 2K League, and something like this opens up the possibility for an eSports league for baseball. That is something I have no knowledge of, but logically, knowing what I do about eSports, I can’t see what would stop them from creating an MLB The Show league sponsored by Major League Baseball- they should, they should’ve done it a year ago.
Mannis: Lastly, what are your thoughts on Marvin Miller finally getting elected into the Hall of Fame this year?
Kusnick: I’m heartbroken that they inducted him after he was dead, because that would’ve been the greatest Hall of Fame speech in the history of Hall of Fame speeches. I think it’s a travesty that they waited this long on purpose, inducting him after he was dead, and I think Marvin Miller changed the game more than anyone in the last 50 years, short of Jackie Robinson. I’m not saying that it had the same kind of social impact, but with what Curt Flood went through, I think he should be a Hall of Famer also, and we can’t forget him, because without guys like Flood, Marvin Miller wouldn’t have been able to implement his plan. But again, for me, Marvin Miller is long overdue to get into the Hall of Fame, I’m uncomfortable with the fact that the Hall of Fame did not respect his wishes about getting inducted posthumously, but honestly, in my opinion, he’s dead, he doesn’t care. I think we should induct him for the betterment of everyone else, and anyone who goes to the Museum now has to see Marvin Miller’s story, and I assure you every owner that had to deal with him back in the 1970s is rolling in their grave right now, now that he’s in the Museum. So part of me thinks maybe, somewhere, Marvin is happy about that, and the fact that Jerry Reinsdorf has to watch Marvin Miller’s induction makes me happy.